Malibu’s fallen fortress

The 15,200 square foot Castle Kashan, overlooking the center of Malibu, was one of the first casualties of the Malibu Canyon Fire that started Sunday 4:55 a.m. Photo by Arnold G. York

Malibu’s landmark castle goes down in flames.

By Kim Devore / Staff Writer/ The Malibu Times

Among the homes that burned in this week’s fire was one of the city’s most celebrated. In the early hours of Sunday morning, flames devoured Malibu’s famed Castle Kashan. Lilly Lawrence, who has owned the storied estate for almost 10 years, watched in horror as her irreplaceable family heirlooms and priceless antiques went up in smoke.

“The Baccarat chandeliers, the Venetian glass, my antique Weber piano, which I loved so much, the portraits, all gone,” the renowned host and philanthropist told The Malibu Times. “It’s so devastating.”

Lawrence awoke to the smell of smoke around 7:30 a.m. and a short time later discovered that the castle was ablaze. She had enough time to grab her two Persian cats, Jessie James and Delilah, as well as a few small possessions and took refuge in her carriage house. The noted collector of Elvis memorabilia also grabbed a pair of the King’s army fatigues, but many original scripts from Elvis movies and historical documents were lost.

“When I think about some of those things, I don’t feel so stoic,” Lawrence said. “I feel like crying.”

The family jewelry collection, which as been described as being “second only to the Queen of England’s” remains buried in the rubble.

Lawrence, who is often referred to as “Princess Lilly,” is the daughter of Reza Fallah, a former Iranian oil minister under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. She escaped the country’s revolution and brought many of her valuables with her.

She bought the Scottish style castle for $3 million in 1998 from a doctor, Thomas Hodges, who built the 15,200-square-foot castle in 1978. It sits atop a bluff off Malibu Crest Road near the now burned down Malibu Presbyterian Church.

The fire apparently started in what was called “The Rock and Roll Room” on the lower east side of the castle, and quickly spread throughout the home to “The Rose Room,” where the entire room was filled with rose colored carpeting, divans and a large portrait of Lawrence in regal gear, painted by Ralph Wolfe Cowan. Several large portraits by Cowan, of Lawrence, and one of her father, were hung throughout the six-bedroom, eight bathroom castle. The fire then reached the “The Gold Salon,” “The Napoleonic Study” and “The Empress Josephine Garden Room.”

Despite the loss, Lawrence had words of praise for fast-acting firefighters who managed to save several artifacts.

“Captain Dennis Cross, without any request from me, had his men go into the Presidential Library and they managed to salvage a good 80 percent of the treasures from that room.”

The treasures include a stately round carpet, which matches the one in the White House Oval Office, as well as Christmas cards from the late Princess of Wales, and signed notes and letters from U.S. presidents, as well as photos.

The castle has been used as a majestic backdrop for many high profile events and charities including The Malibu Times Dolphin Awards, the Malibu Celebration of Film’s tribute to director Robert Altman, and a fundraiser that took place just two weeks ago for the Children’s Lifesaving Foundation, hosted by actor Michael Chiklis and attended by many Malibu residents, include CurtCo Media CEO Rob Curtis.

“It became a way of life,” Lawrence said. “We just had one great happening after another.”

According to published reports, the regal residence was on the market for $17 million and was said to be in escrow, but Lawrence said that was no longer the case.

Lawrence, who is now staying with friends in Malibu, said she plans to rebuild.

Even though what remains of her fairy tale estate are mostly memories, Lawrence seems to be taking it all in stride.

“Of course the horror of it is there was nothing like this anywhere in the world,” she said. “But my parents brought me up not to let my possessions possess me.”